What exactly is Recoleta, you may ask?
Recoleta has long been home to some of Buenos Aires’s wealthiest residents. Stroll the streets and you’ll be sure to see this reflected in the grandiose architecture of residential and commercial buildings, many of which were designed by French architects in the 19th and early 20th century. Perhaps on your stroll, as you pass chic clothing stores and restaurants, you’ll catch a glance of the ornate mausoleums peaking over the old wall of the cemetery. Stop and linger over a coffee or merienda (afternoon snack) at a street side café and you may think you’ve somehow been transported to an uncharted corner of Paris.
How did this charming slice of the old world end up in the new world? It all started with a yellow fever epidemic in the 1870s. Looking to escape the disease, the wealthy residents of Buenos Aires abandoned their comfortable homes in San Telmo, near the center of the city, and settled in the elevated area of what would become Recoleta, where mosquitoes were less frequent. Because of this small diaspora, Recoleta is now the home of many embassies, luxury hotels, and private mansions. The fabulous Avenida Alvear is a great example of the wealth and style of Buenos Aires’s upper class.
Many Porteños claim that much of the area called Recoleta is actually a part of Barrio Norte (North Neighborhood). So even though a few of the sights we listed are said to be located in Recoleta, this may not be true technically. However, whether considered a part of Recoleta or Barrio Norte, the area is sure to enchant you. Below we’ve listed some of the must see sights of Recoleta.
1-Recoleta Cemetery and Pilar Church
The historic center of Recoleta, Pilar Church and the cemetery simply can’t be missed. Recoleta cemetery is the eternal resting place for Argentina’s rich, heroic, famous and infamous and is the most expensive real estate in Buenos Aires. Richly decorated Mausoleums line the cemetery’s small avenues forming a strange yet charming city in miniature. Visitors wander the pathways, searching for the tombs of Argentines known throughout the world. The most popular of which is Eva Duarte Peron or “Evita”.
At the start of the 18th century, an order of Spanish monks belonging to the Franciscans of the king of Spain arrived in Buenos Aires and built Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The church features seven side chapels and an enormous altar illustrating the influence of the late baroque style. However, there are also indigenous influences as well. An Incan sun decorates the silver altar and the heads of the angles on the altarpiece are anonymous contributions from indigenous artisans.
2-Palais de Glace
Otherwise known as the National Culture Exhibit Rooms, Palais de Glace (the Ice Palace) was once an ice rink and now serves as Buenos Aires’s main exhibition space. Be sure to check out what events and exhibitions are currently being held here.
3-El Museo de Artes Decorativos
The National Museum of Decorative Arts is housed in a magnificent French neoclassical building (it’s worth the price of admission just to enter this beautiful structure). It contains a variety of permanent pieces, including an El Greco, an ancient Roman sculpture, and a collection of East Asian art as well as changing collections. Admire the elaborate Spanish tapestries that hang throughout as well as the eclectic mix of artwork and artifacts from a multitude of time periods.
Av. del Libertador 1902
Phone: 4806-8306/ 4801-8248 / Website (in Spanish)
4- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Off Avendia del Libertador, the National Museum of Fine Art contains some of Argentina’s greatest treasures as well as traveling exhibits. The museum is the best place to see works of Argentine painters, including Prilidiano Pueyrredón and Martín Malharro, in addition to a European collection that includes works by Monet, Van Gough, Degas, and Rodin.
Av. del Libertador 1473
Phone: 4803-0802, 4803-8814, 4803-4691 / Website (in Spanish)
5-Avenida Quintana and Avenida Alvear
These parallel avenues begin in the heart of Recoleta, in the park adjacent to the cemetery, and end near Avenida 9 de Julio, the so-called widest street in the world. Strolling these streets provides a great introduction to Recoleta. The European/French influence can be viewed in the elegant buildings and mansions that now stand next to luxurious international botiques and stores. Jorge Louis Borges, Argentina’s most influential writer, lived on Avenida Quintana while working as the director of the National Library.
Architecture and literature buffs alike will enjoy the National Library. This strange looking structure rises above the trees of neighboring parks, only a few blocks away from the museum of fine arts. Designed in 1961 but not inaugurated until 1992, its design is an example of the brutalist style of modernist architecture.
7-Floralis Genérica (The Giant Flower)
This 23 meter (75ft) tall flower sits in Plaza de los Naciones Unidas. Everyday its giant petals open and close, symbolizing the rebirth brought by each day. Each of the six petals weighs nearly four tons and the entire structure weighs a total of 18 tons. The petals follow the rays of the sun, completely opening and then closing the over the course of each day, spanning a distance of 32 meters when open and contracting to a diameter of 16 meters when closed. The closing schedule varies during the year and for four nights a year the petals remain open all night: May 25, September 21, December 24, and December 31. The beautiful sculpture was a gift to the city by architect Eduardo Catalano.